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Democrats Must Run Against GOP Extremism

The Republicans have become a party of lies, hysteria, extremism, and violence. They must be forced to confront that reality.
February 2, 2021
Democrats Must Run Against GOP Extremism
US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, holds up a "Stop the Steal" mask while speaking with fellow first-term Republican members of Congress on the steps of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 4, 2021. - Donald Trump and Joe Biden head to Georgia on Monday to rally their party faithful ahead of twin runoffs that will decide who controls the US Senate, one day after the release of a bombshell recording of the outgoing president that rocked Washington.If Democratic challengers defeat the Republican incumbents in both races Tuesday, the split in the upper chamber of Congress will be 50-50, meaning incoming Vice President Kamala Harris will have the deciding vote. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2020, Democrats won the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives—narrowly. No matter how successfully Democrats govern, Republicans could reclaim Congress in 2022; in 2024, the White House.

The Electoral College, the Senate, and—through gerrymandering—the House are structured to empower a minority of voters. To amplify their influence, Republicans have conjured bogus election fraud to justify systematic voter suppression. Now they are attempting to operationalize their “big lie” that massive fraud defeated Donald Trump—introducing (as of last week) 106 laws in 28 states to limit voter access.

To combat this, Democrats must expand their popular majority. That means spurring America’s recovery, registering more voters—and defining the GOP as what it has become: the party of lies, hysteria, extremism, and violence.

Since the deadly attack on Congress, Republicans can no longer hide the costs of breeding mass insanity. Democrats must seize the chance to split the GOP while convincing a crucial share of the electorate that the party is terminally toxic.

Following the insurrection, the Hill reports, an unusually high volume of GOP voters changed their registration—including critical suburbanites in battleground states. Noting that 20-25 percent of Republicans reject the big lie, Ron Brownstein observes: “If Biden could lastingly attract even a significant fraction of the Republican voters dismayed over the riot, it would constitute a seismic change in the political balance of power.”

The promise exists. Brownstein cites recent polls showing that Trump’s approval among Republicans has appreciably diminished; that one-third want the party to reduce Trump’s influence; and that a smaller but significant percentage view Biden favorably. Critically, CNN found that 24 percent of Republicans believe that Trump changed America for the worse.

No doubt Republican senators will prevent his conviction in the imminent impeachment trial—decrying its “divisiveness” while asserting that a former president cannot be impeached. Let them. Dismissing the need for evidence because “the public record is your television screen,” Lindsey Graham said more than he intended.

Impeachment managers are reportedly preparing a video presentation fusing the invasion with the incipient mob responding to Trump’s incitements. Those images could have a lethal afterlife: TV spots reminding voters that the same Republicans who exonerated Trump voted to honor the demands of the mob which, hours before, had murdered a policeman striving to protect them. This from the tribunes of law and order.

Trump, it transpires, was a sorcerer’s apprentice who summoned a tsunami from the party’s fever swamp of ignorance and paranoia. The mob he incited was an amalgam of the volatile and unhinged: white supremacists and gun-obsessed militia; apocalyptic fundamentalists who share their racism and paranoia; QAnon fanatics convinced that Trump was fighting a cabal of Satan-worshiping, child molesting, cannibalistic Democrats.

Implores Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger: “It’s time to . . . reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage.” Too late. The mob’s Republican coreligionists are coming after Kinzinger and everyone else who hasn’t leapt headfirst into their epistemic sinkhole.

Instead of chastising legislators who inflamed the insurrectionists, Republicans are purging Trump’s critics and embracing the rioters’ primal nihilism. The moronic motormouth Matt Gaetz denounced Liz Cheney; pro-Trumpers are mounting primary challenges against Republicans who voted for impeachment; state-level Republicans are censuring officials who rejected Trump’s false narrative.

Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy seem paralyzed by grassroots derangement. Fearful for their interests, GOP donors helplessly watch Trump’s sans culottes eradicate dissent and incinerate reason. For Democrats, their psychosis—however frightening—augurs a political gift that will keep on giving.

Hawaii’s Republican chairwoman praises QAnon believers. Oregon’s GOP claims that the insurrection was a “false flag operation.” Michigan’s incoming party co-chair helped organize Trump’s January 6 rally. But the poster lunatic is Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Variously, Greene has embraced QAnon; asserted that the Parkland and Newtown school shootings were staged; insinuated that Hillary Clinton killed a child during a Satanic ritual; labeled JFK Jr.’s death “another of those Clinton murders”; called Barack Obama a Muslim; proclaimed January 6 as the GOP’s “1776 moment”; claimed that the California wildfires were started by a space laser controlled by Jewish financiers; and liked a tweet calling for Nancy Pelosi’s assassination.

While Greene may be insane, she’s hardly unrepresentative.

Her candidacy was endorsed by Reps. Jim Jordan and Andy Biggs, the former a farcical recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his servility toward Donald Trump, the latter the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus whose own brothers have said he should be removed from office. Trump praises her, gun-rights absolutists adore her, small donors shower her with cash. After her election, McCarthy assigned the rabid school-shooting denier to the Education and Labor Committee.

House Democrats have called for her expulsion, censure, or removal from the committee. Her Republican colleagues are silent; temporizing, McCarthy feebly pledged to meet with her regarding her inflammatory comments. Anticipating her impunity, Greene noisily asserts her refusal to be silenced.

Greene underscores a particularly disturbing component of the GOP’s distemper—any challenge to the party’s most execrable and incendiary lies evokes cries of imaginary censorship, persecution, repression, and dispossession. Philip Rotner describes this dangerous phenomenon:

Exactly what the insurgents fear will be taken away from them is the MacGuffin of our times. Who has it is more important than what it is.

For white supremacists it’s white privilege. For Second Amendment absolutists it’s guns. For the religious right it’s God. For the militias it’s what they call “freedom,” meaning unfettered personal autonomy. For anti-immigration activists it’s jobs and cultural identity. For Stop the Steal it’s electoral power.

While the precise threat may be defined differently across the various components of the insurgent army, for each group the threat is perceived as existential. Therefore, they consider themselves morally, if not legally, justified to resist with violence.

This kinetic sense of grievance accounts for the unprecedented warning from DHS about domestic terrorism: that “ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”

The “false narratives” which ignite these “perceived grievances” now permeate the GOP. Trump’s insurrection was a harbinger of more.

Indeed, Republican congressmen have openly encouraged extremist groups—now under FBI investigation—that participated in the attack. According to the New York Times, Paul Gosar of Arizona has met with Oath Keepers and Proud Boys; Lauren Boebert of Colorado has ties to the Three Percenters and has declared “I am the militia”; Biggs met with leaders of Stop the Steal and appeared at an Oath Keepers meeting where a speaker advocated hanging John McCain.

Republican presidential aspirants include Josh Hawley, who spearheaded the drive to overturn the presidential election, gave the gathering insurrectionists a closed-fist salute, and asks whether the DHS terrorism warning is “just some attempt to amass power, and go after the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.” His fellow demagogue Ted Cruz was name-checked by the mob.

The human windsock Marco Rubio called impeachment a “stupid” response to “demands from [sic] vengeance from the radical left.” One can expect no better from Trump sycophants Tom Cotton, Mike Pompeo, and Nikki Haley.

In the national interest, and their own, Democrats should weaponize Republican cowardice and sedition in every swing state and district from now through 2024—not just through video clips of Trump and the rioters, but by confronting Republican candidates with the GOP’s anti-democratic depravity. A few questions suffice as examples:

Was the 2020 election stolen by fraud? What evidence supports that claim? Why did you vote to overturn the election? Why did you oppose impeaching Trump? Do you think Trump should remain a force within the party?

Do you support Kevin McCarthy for speaker of the House? Where do you stand on Marjorie Taylor Greene?

Do you denounce the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and QAnon? Should the party expel candidates who don’t? What steps should be taken to investigate and combat domestic terrorists?

Relentlessly, Republican candidates should be faced, in the moment, with every questionable statement uttered by a fellow Republican—whether Trump, Hawley, McCarthy, or whatever senator or congressman provides the rope. Make them choose. If they won’t, hang them with it—metaphorically, that is.

Republicans play hardball—and, all too often, lie. Far better for Democrats to play hardball with the truth. The party of extremism deserves no less.

Richard North Patterson

Richard North Patterson is a lawyer, political commentator and best-selling novelist. He is a former chairman of Common Cause and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.